The Denali Park Road: Toklat to Kantishna and back

Day 2: Toklat to Kantishna and back to Highway Pass

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Clear skies and views of Denali define the morning, while scattered showers and mosquitos send me looking for a dry place to rest in Kantishna, at the end of the road.  The Kantishna Roadhouse has the best saloon for ninety miles; John the wisened bartender has been around the world a dozen times, and knew a little bit about everything.  As the rain let up I climbed out of Kantishna, retracing my route back towards the park entrance.  A tempest sent me surging uphill to the Eielson Visitor’s Center to seek cover and a warm pot of food.

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Tighten those bolts!  I encountered this cyclist whose shoe was fixed to her pedal, as she sat on the ground enjoying a snack with only one shoe.  A missing bolt in her SPD cleat was the problem.  Also, the rack had been mended with a dozen zip-ties and upon closer inspection, all but one of the rack mounting bolts was loose.  I tightened things up, and supplied a bolt for the SPD cleat and the rack.  Finally, I straightened her seat, which was curiously off-center by about 15 degrees.  This detail, in addition to the loose bolts, had us all laughing.

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Wonder Lake:

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Kantishna:

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Headed back, dodging rainstorms.  With such broad views, it’s possible to plan your resting and your riding around the rainclouds.  It wasn’t foolproof, as I still got a wet a few times.

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Bears:

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Day 3: Highway Pass to Riley Creek

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Climbing and descending, sun and rain; it was a great day to practice layering and moisture management on the bike.  In total, I met six cyclists riding the road: two Germans, two young girls from Girdwood, AK, and two guys from New Orleans.  At the Toklat Visitor’s Center I spotted a 1987 Schwinn High Sierra.  I know this bike well as I converted one for touring purposes with Schwalbe Marathon tires and a Nitto Moustache handlebar several summers ago.  The owner of the bike, Charlotte, was flattered that I liked her bike so much, although she seemed a bit astonished.  Connecting the dots, it came to light that she had been involved with the nascent Bikecentennial organization beginning in 1975 when she moved out to Missoula with only a small backpack.  Bikecentennial was to eventually become the mammoth Adventure Cycling Association.  She participated in one of the first TSORV rides in Ohio in 1968, and had ridden through several South American countries with Greg and June Siple’s famed Hemistour ride from Alaska to Argentina in the early 70’s.  She was impressed that I knew about all that old stuff.  I was impressed at all that she had done.  As I described my curious touring bicycle and my lifestyle, she smiled, and pegged me as a “bike idealist”.  She’s right and that’s the best compliment anyone could give.

I found an interesting article about the development and execution of the Bikecentennial event on the ACA website.  Charlotte is quoted in the article, referring to her position with the young organization, “Bicycling to me somehow symbolized clean, moral living. I was really caught up in the whole thing. I was never going to own a car.”  Charlotte is one hell of a gal.

Charlotte’s 1987 Schwinn High Sierra: Check out the lugged Unicrown fork, smooth brazed head tube junctions, and Suntour Roller-Cam brakes.  The bike is mostly original (the copper-colored anodized stem has been replaced) and is ridden up Highway Pass from the Toklat River every day during the summer, as much as a thousand feet in elevation.

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Up and over a few familiar passes, I am once again on pavement and losing elevation.  Descending out of the park is thrilling.  While a free shuttle will take you from the Savage River gate at mile 14 to the entrance, a several thousand foot descent is a nice way to finish the ride.  In the canyon outside the park, called “Glitter Gulch”, all kinds of hot foods and cold beverages can be found.  A well-stocked outdoor store can supply any necessary gear for the road ahead.

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